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Army’s testbed ISR business jets are opening doors to new mission possibilities


The Airborne Reconnaissance Targeting & Exploitation Multi-Mission Intelligence System aircraft., known as ARTEMIS. (U.S. Army)

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — As the US Army develops requirements for its future fixed wing spy plane to replace the RC-12 Guardrail, the service is finding that the ranges of two testbed business jets “opens up the aperture from the mission perspective,” according to a program leader.

Using two different business jets, respectively owned and operated by Leidos and L3Harris, the Army is informing future requirements for its High Accuracy Detection and Exploitation System (HADES) to replace the Guardrail. Right now, Leidos’ ARTEMIS jet is flying in Europe, and L3Harris’ ARES aircraft has flown in the Pacific

“It’s a totally different type of CONOP [concept of operations] than from what we would do with a Guardrail,” Ronald Rizzo, deputy project director for sensors aerial intelligence at Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, told reporters during a media day last week. “Going back to the Cold War days, it lived in Germany and we fly along the German border. That was that was the extent of its range.”

With ARTEMIS and ARES, “we’re able to launch from one area and very quickly get to another area that is much further away in distance. So it opens up the aperture from a mission perspective,” Rizzo said.

The ARTEMIS aircraft has demonstrated its range during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, flying multiple sorties per week both before and after the conflict began. ARTEMIS takes off from Romania and consistently flies through Slovakia and Hungary — along the Ukraine border — and continues through Poland towards Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave. The aircraft also completes routes inside Romania, scanning along Romania’s border with Ukraine and Moldova. Recent flights show the aircraft flying for over nine hours and up to almost 4,000 miles.

The ARTEMIS aircraft returns to the United States every few weeks, Rizzo said, where the Army updates the software on board.

“We iterate on software, we iterate on different sensors, hardware, and back out it goes,” Rizzo said.

L3Harris has a similar mission in the Pacific. The plane arrived in the region in April and had flown 130 hours, according to an early June report from Defense News. According to that report, ARES is a larger platform than ARTEMIS with a higher altitude and longer range, allowing for more powerful ISR payloads.

“All of this is to inform how we will ultimately build the HADES program of record,” Rizzo said.

Another consideration for the Army is how it will sustain a business-class jet in its arsenal. Under the two prototypes, the contractors are responsible for the sustainment, but the Army is receiving reports and feedback, Rizzo said.

“That is something that we are looking at for how to tackle it into the program of record,” Rizzo said. “We still need to crack the nut on how we’re going to, as an Army, maintain a business-class jet. That’s being worked.”

This year, ARES is expected to participate in Project Convergence, but ARTEMIS will not. At last year’s Project Convergence, ARTEMIS pulled out during the exercise to fly back to Europe as tensions rose on the Russia-Ukraine border. The aircraft also participated in EDGE 21 last year, the annual future vertical lift networking exercise in Utah.

While ARTEMIS and ARES are still flying as testbed aircraft for HADES, the Army released a request for information late last month for three HADES prototypes. Under that RFI, the Army laid out two courses for action for the HADES program. Under the first option, the contractor would receive an aircraft that’s already modified to carry sensors and radar. For the second option, the contractor would receive a jet right off the production line and have to modify the airframe for radar and sensors integration.

The Army plans to field HADES in 2028 and is looking at buying between 10 to 16 of the jets, Rizzo said, but the number hasn’t been finalized. According to fiscal 2023 budget books, HADES prototype acquisition and integration will begin in the second quarter of FY23. Qualification testing and evaluation will start in FY24 and a military user assessment begins in FY26.

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